More than 800 migrants rescued at sea head to Italy

Hundreds have been saved from traffickers' boats in the Mediterranean

The SOS Mediteranee's rescue ship "Ocean Viking" will disembark more than 230 rescued migrants, more than half of them unaccompanied minors, at the Italian port Augusta on the island of Sicily. AFP.
The SOS Mediteranee's rescue ship "Ocean Viking" will disembark more than 230 rescued migrants, more than half of them unaccompanied minors, at the Italian port Augusta on the island of Sicily. AFP.

A charity ship sailed toward a Sicilian port with 236 people rescued in the Mediterranean from traffickers’ boats, while Italian coast guard and border police brought 532 others to a tiny island.

The maritime rescue group SOS Mediterranee said a ship it operates, Ocean Viking, pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from two rubber dinghies.

Upon instructions from Italian authorities, the Ocean Viking was sailing to Augusta, Sicily, with its passengers, who it said included 119 unaccompanied minors.

SOS Mediterranee said some passengers told rescuers they were beaten by smugglers based in Libya and forced to embark on the unseaworthy dinghies despite high waves.

On Italy’s southern island of Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than to the Italian mainland, Mayor Salvatore Martello said migrants from four boats that needed rescue stepped ashore overnight. They were brought to safety by Italian coast guard and customs police boats.

Separately, an Italian navy vessel rescued 49 migrants, Italian state TV reported.

Still in the central Mediterranean Sea on Saturday was another charity boat, Sea-Watch 4, which with 308 people aboard who had been rescued in four separate operations from trafficker-launched vessels, Sea-Watch said in a statement.

The first rescue, of 44 people, took place on Thursday, it said.

Sea-Watch 4 has requested a port to disembark the migrants from both Italy and Malta.

“The fact that we, as a civil rescue ship, saved so many people from distress at sea in such a short time again demonstrates the fundamental rescue gap European states have created at the world’s most dangerous maritime border,” said Hannah Wallace Bowman, the head of mission for Sea-Watch 4.

Warmer weather in the spring often increases the number of vessels launched toward Europe by Libya-based migrant traffickers.

Humanitarian groups have been urging European Union nations to resume the deployment of military vessels on rescue patrols in the Mediterranean.

After hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants, many of them ineligible for asylum, were brought to Italy by ships from the coast guard, navy, border police and other nations, large-scale rescue operations in the sea north of Libya were ended.

Italy has been equipping and training the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants in their search-and-rescue area and to discourage traffickers.

Human rights groups and UN agencies have denounced inhumane treatment at Libyan detention centres, where migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan coast guard are taken. They say migrants endure beatings, rapes and insufficient rations.

Published: May 2, 2021 12:41 AM

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